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Dilli Chalo | We are staring at the privatisation of agriculture, says BKU’s Rakesh Tikait

Media savvy Rakesh Tikait at the Delhi-Ghaziabad border Photo: Anuj Kumar  

His nonchalance while addressing the media and negotiating with officials is noteworthy. Rakesh Tikait saunters beneath the Delhi-Meerut flyover on NH 9 like he is strolling in his fields in Sisauli village in Muzaffarnagar. The national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) is one of the many farmer leaders participating in the ongoing negotiations with the government. He is the younger son of Mahendra Singh Tikait, who once made the BKU the voice of farmers in north India. Today, the BKU has been fragmented into 50-odd factions with the Tikait group holding on to its influence over farmers in west U.P.

Well-informed on the demands of electronic media, Mr. Tikait keeps shifting between tractors to give sound bytes to newspersons. When Ghaziabad officials arrive to negotiate, he educates them on where Delhi ends and Uttar Pradesh begins. He tells the Additional District Magistrate to get the walls of the flyover painted as the ‘Kisan Kranti Gate 2018’ in memory of the clash between BKU farmers and the police in October 2018 at the site.

Many see him as close to senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Rajnath Singh. When someone asks whether he was disappointed that Mr. Singh was missing from the government panel, Mr. Tikait nods, “He has a strong grip on farmer issues and he is from Uttar Pradesh. But it’s the government’s decision. He might join at a later stage. Abhi to lamba chalega (it will go on for a long time),” he predicts. “Baat cheet toh theek hoti hai but still there is no middle ground so far,” says Mr. Tikait on the ongoing talks.

He quickly clarifies that the BKU was not speaking for the government. “Many in the BJP feel that way and don’t come to the protest. Many in the Opposition suspect the same and maintain distance. We are not spokespersons of the BJP. Many of us might have voted for the BJP in the elections but they haven’t lived up to the promise made to farmers,” he argues.

Also read: Verbal assurances on MSP not enough, protest will continue till R-Day: BKU

Mr. Tikait says when the government wants to move out of a sector, it starts creating a situation where people start seeing it as a loss-making proposition. “They know everything. It seems they are paving way for agro-industries and are looking at farmers as labour. When the government talks of contract farming, it seems they have corporate farming in mind. We are staring at the privatisation of agriculture.” The irony is, adds Mr. Tikait, that “those who got educated left agriculture and now those who are illiterate will also leave agriculture”.

Also read: Dilli Chalo | Farmers front calls for Bharat Bandh on December 8

The problem, he says, is how the government is looking at the issue. “It is trampling on what is essentially a State subject. When we talk of writing Minimum Support Price (MSP) in the law, we are told MSP is a separate issue,” says Mr. Tikait.

He asks that when the Prime Minister talks about “one country, one market”, he should know that the input costs of farmers in different States are different. “There is a vast difference in electricity rates in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, both ruled by the BJP,” he says.

He maintains there is coordination between different groups: “If somebody goes out of the movement of farmers of the country, it won’t be acceptable to farmers who are now coming out in large numbers.”

Also read: Farmers set ultimatum on repeal of new agriculture laws

On the slow mobilisation in west U.P. in comparison to Haryana and Punjab, Mr. Tikait says in west UP, tractors were still busy unloading sugarcane at mills. “In Haryana and Punjab, farmers are comparatively freer during this period as paddy has been harvested and the wheat is sown. Here, the farmer is still busy with sugarcane. Also, the lack of rail transport has resulted in slow mobilisation,” he contends.

On the funding of the protest and the increase in the number of SUVs at the protest site, Mr. Tikait reasons they are of those who have agriculture as the secondary source of income. “Those who are wholly dependent on agriculture could only have two square meals a day,” he states.

Interestingly, he adds, the farmers are funding the protests themselves. “They are coming on their own, paying for their travel. That’s why you can sense a feeling of pride and freedom in them. It is not like political parties where they see it like a chore,” says Mr. Tikait.

As one rises to leave, a fogging machine arrives from one side of the U.P. gate, and from the other, a Samajwadi Party worker comes with food packets. In between, Mr. Tikait is telling officials the exact place at which he wants the graffiti. “If you find it difficult, tell the Electricity Department to send a crane to fix a light. We will get hold of the crane to spray-paint the graffiti.”

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2021 5:13:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/we-are-staring-at-the-privatisation-of-agriculture-says-bkus-rakesh-tikait/article33260050.ece

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